Industry Leaders Forum: Dr Greg Whiteley, Chairman, Whiteley

How was 2020 for Whiteley Corporation? What were the highlights? What were the challenges?

2020 was a challenging year for Whiteley, as it was for most companies. However, in amongst the challenges there were highlights including:

  • Overcoming numerous supply chain issues to massively ramp up production of infection prevention products for supply to the Pacific Region and beyond
  • Viraclean being the first hard surface disinfectant to have a TGA approved kill claim against COVID-19
  • Being awarded Hunter Manufacturer of the Year 2020
  • Signing a one-year Innovation Connections collaborative research grant as part of the Australian Government’s Entrepreneurs’ Programme with the University of Newcastle.
  • Acquiring two new sites (and buildings), including space for a dedicated Human Therapeutics Plant, which will be the first in the Hunter Region.

How did Whiteley Corporation adjust to the impact of the pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic saw Whiteley Corporation adapt its business operations rapidly in order to maintain supply for the Australian and regional healthcare market.

Whiteley Corporation more than doubled its production capacity by expanding our workforce, adding a second shift, and worked additional days to meet demand.

We improved manufacturing capacity by the recruitment of specialists and procurement roles, wider training for current staff and purchasing additional capital equipment for production, packaging, and dispatch.

We optimised our supply chain and brought forward our capital equipment investment program to including the purchase of new filling machines with enhanced capacity. Investments were also made in staff training, and capital equipment for our research projects.

How would you rate the industry’s response to the pandemic?

Overall, the cleaning industry has done an excellent job during the pandemic. Many companies recruited extra staff, implemented a range of new protocols, and worked very long hours to keep businesses, schools, hospitality and countries operational as soon as possible after and outbreak. Without the dedication and commitment from so many in the cleaning industry I am certain that the country would not perform so well in limiting the spread of COVID-19.

However, it was disappointing to see how many Industrial suppliers that were willing to promote products that weren’t suitably tested or approved for use against COVID-19.

Our various regulatory bodies including the TGA were kept exceptionally busy managing these rogue players and significant fines are still being issued regularly to companies that are willing to compromise public safety for the sake of a quick sale.

What will be the immediate focus for Whiteley Corporation in 2021?

Our dedication to research for better and more effective products remains a core focus for our business now, for 2021 and beyond. We are also moving as fast as possible to bring online the new Human Therapeutics Plant in Tomago.

What challenges and opportunities do you see for 2021?

While there have been some great advances in vaccine development there are still questions that need to be answered before wide scale introduction of any new vaccine(s).

The virus is currently running rampant in the Northern Hemisphere winter so if we open up our borders and trade, we will face increased risk now and in our colder months in 2021.

We will continue to consolidate the advances made in our operation efficiencies, expand into new markets, and adapt our business to the evolving marketplace.

We want to ensure that we do not get distracted from our important goals in expansion of plant, new product development, and our growing body of collaborative tertiary research.

This research is our forward plan for when (eventually) the pandemic ends, and we move back to a new normal across our planet.

Looking at the future what do you see, as far as changes and adjustments, the industry must embrace?

Infection prevention will be an important factor considered not just in healthcare but in the wider community and commercial sectors.

A cornerstone of infection prevention is cleaning and good hygiene practices so this will lead to more resources, more contracts, and more jobs in the cleaning sector.

Those businesses that make infection prevention a cornerstone of good practise within their organisations will outperform those that do not take up the infection prevention challenge.

In the longer term there is always the dynamic tension between automation, roboticisation vs human intervention in cleaning processes. As technology progresses countries with a higher cost of labour will make economic efficiencies of robotics more attractive.

 What do you expect to be the big trends of 2021?

Our expectation is further market changes. We expect significant legislative changes into the arena, particularly in the aged care sector where the approach to cleaning has been seriously sub-optimal. It is horrifying to hear how many facilities believed cleaning with a detergent was sufficient to manage an outbreak.

What is one issue the industry should urgently address in 2021?

Cleaners are the most important people in the sector. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic absolutely highlighted this. Can we make them number one and value them accordingly?

Training – poorly trained cleaners can act as mobile fomites and spread infectious organisms through poor methods and cleaning practice.

Therefore, training, and appropriate measurements and supervision will become increasingly important for the cleaning sector and their customers.

Focusing on their role as front line defence against ‘superbugs’ will mark a major change in current levels of investment in cleaning staff, and their training.

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